A-League clubs are looking locally more than ever before

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It is hard to argue against the value that foreign imports add to the league. This season however, provides a great opportunity for young talent to break into their first teams – with many clubs reaping the rewards.

Given the lack of restrictions the A-League is subject to it has become a very desirable destination. Overseas players are looking to our shores to continue their footballing career. Coaches around the league have mostly resisted these opportunities and instead decided to promote from within. With the development of young players in Australia and New Zealand, there is little wonder why this is the case.

The evidence is clear. Ever since the A-League’s inception, the pathway for and the development of Australian talent has improved. The major development has been the inception of youth academies playing in their state’s respective NPL competition. This provides a clear pathway for youngsters, and has given A-League sides the first right of refusal on talent. As a result of this, coaches around the league are beginning to look within our shores more so than ever before.

We have seen A-League sides of the past develop youth and turn them into title winners, as opposed to splashing the cash. Socceroos coach Graham Arnold and his former Central Coast Mariners side being the prime example of this. Arnold handed A-League debuts to the likes of Mat Ryan, Trent Sainsbury, Bernie Ibini, Tom Rogic, Oliver Bozanic, Anthony Caceres, Mitchell Duke and Mustafa Amini. They repaid him by winning the 2012/13 A-League title. Many of these players have since gone on to have successful careers both with the national team and overseas.

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Since this, the pathways for youngsters who find themselves in A-League youth academies has only strengthened. With the majority of them playing in the various National Premier League’s around the country. Age restrictions on these academy sides mean all but three of their first grade players have to be under 21. This gives great opportunities for young players to adjust to the physical nature of professional football. Competing against fully grown men each week accelerates the awareness of the need for physicality to be successful.

The success this season already has proved that coaches who are willing to back young local talent reap the rewards. Calem Nieuwenhof, Jordan Smylie and Alou Kuol scoring goals for their respective sides this season has shown the rewards on offer. All three have one thing in common – they are products from their team’s academy.

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The champions, Sydney FC, chose this off season to promote from their youth ranks. The alternative was to purchase various high-profile foreigners, other than their re-signing of former striker Bobo, to plug gaps. Nieuwenhof, Luke Ivanovic, Patrick Wood and Joel King, all 20 years or younger, have stepped up as first-team regulars this season.

The success of the youth pathways that have been put in place is exhibited by the current crop of our Olyroos. All bar one of the current squad play for A-League sides. That exception is Nicholas Sorras who plays for Sydney Olympic in the New South Wales NPL competition.

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The NPL competition has been a great resource for A-League sides over the years. With recent success story Matt Millar, going from the Mariners to the Newcastle Jets and is now plying his trade in England at Shrewsbury Town. Dylan Wenzel-Halls and Max Burgess also have made the step-up with little fuss. This highlights how profitable of an avenue the NPL can be for A-League clubs.

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This season a crop of new NPL talent has entered the league, with promising signs already being show. Jaden Casella at the Mariners and Lachlan Rose at Macarthur FC have already demonstrated they could be the next success stories to come out of the NPL.

This season is made even more exciting by the prospect of the young talents that are on display for fans to enjoy week in week out. With the potential of receiving a call-up for the Olyroos Olympic side, these youngsters will be undoubtedly giving their all in a bid to secure a seat to Tokyo.

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Chris Ball
Football fanatic, supporting some, at times, hard to follow sides.

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